The Search for the Apollo 11 SSTV Tapes

Executive Summary

For the past several years a group of dedicated former Apollo 11 personnel have been searching for the original magnetic data tapes that contain the high quality Slow-Scan TV of the Apollo 11 EVA. This report is a detailed justification of their efforts to date. In summary, the key points are:

* In July 1969, three tracking stations received the TV signals of the historic Apollo 11 EVA. They were the DSN 64 metre antenna at Goldstone, California, the MSFN 26 metre antenna at Honeysuckle Creek, Australia, and the 64 metre CSIRO Parkes Radio Telescope in Australia.

* The TV signals transmitted from the Moon were high quality Slow-Scan TV (SSTV).

* When received on Earth, they were scan-converted to the commercial TV standards before being broadcast to the public at large.

* The scan-converted TV signals, from each of the three stations, were then relayed via landline, microwave relays and geostationary satellite to Houston before being released to the TV networks for general broadcast.

* The signal, as sent from the Moon, was initially degraded by the scan-conversion process, producing lower resolution images and introducing additional signal noise. Also, the transmission of the scan-converted TV to Houston caused additional signal degradation. This lower quality TV is currently all that is available of the Apollo 11 EVA.

* The SSTV was of superior quality to the scan-converted pictures viewed by the world.

* As the raw SSTV signals were received at the three tracking stations, they were recorded onto 1-inch magnetic data tapes. Following the EVA, procedures required that these tapes be shipped to the Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC).

* In 1970, the tapes were placed in the US National Archives in Accession #69A4099. By 1984, all but two of the over 700 boxes of Apollo era magnetic tapes placed in the Accession, were removed and returned to the GSFC for permanent retention. These tapes are now missing.

* These missing data tapes include the raw Apollo 11 SSTV tapes. For the past several years, a search for these tapes has been undertaken by several former Apollo 11 personnel. To date, no Apollo 11 SSTV tapes have been found.

* When the tapes are found, it is hoped to recover the original, high quality SSTV of the first lunar EVA and to release it to the public for the first time.

* The Data Evaluation Lab (DEL) at the Goddard Space Flight Center is the only known place that has the equipment and expertise to playback the tapes and to recover the data.

* The DEL is slated for closure in October 2006.

* Efforts are underway to assure the future of the DEL (the critical hardware located in the DEL that would be required for tape evaluation and processing is being removed and retained through the efforts of the former Apollo engineers).

* It is vital that the DEL (or some elements of it) remain open and functional, otherwise none of the Apollo data tapes can ever be played back and the historic information recovered.

* This report details the reasons why the search for the tapes was undertaken, how much better the SSTV was to the scan-converted TV and the progress of the search to date.

See also the article in German (by Andreas Rosenfelder): Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 2006 August, 21, page 31.

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